Driving south from Senegal, into Guinea-Bissau and the area around Sao Domingos, The village of Holia is a pristine piece of paradise, nestled in the mangroves, on the banks of the river and approached over a new and prettily constructed causeway, lined with oyster shells.
The thatched houses (the thatch has to be replaced annually) stand a good distance from each other, several on their own islets with miniature causeways. The men are busy building new houses, one of longer lasting cement blocks in the fields, one more traditional, but cooler, with mud walls, right on the river. The women are harvesting the rice: scything, threshing and winnowing
. Despite all the activity it’s a tranquil scene. Everyone is serenely welcoming. Well most. Some toddlers scream when they see me. The translators tell me they’re not used to white faces. I’ll settle for that explanation. I’m trying to make videos, but again, Mountaga features in most of them, popping up in front, oblivious to what I’m doing.
Getting to Holia involves a diversion for 30 kilometres (each way) down a horribly bumpy unmade track. The roads In Guinea-Bissau are narrower than in Senegal, with more potholes, the vegetation taller. And the saltwater inlets are lined with coconut palms. The houses are large rectangular prisms, mostly with pitched corrugated iron roofs. They get a lot of rain here and thatch isn’t really practical. The surface is especially bad near the creeks, which flood in the rains. Some way along there’s a toll booth (peage), though I’m not sure why, as the road is still riddled with holes. Driver Manan’s approach is fairly hair raising. Shutting my eyes doesn’t help this time. I can still feel the jolts.
Driving south we arrive at Quinamel, pass some nice-looking hotels and along another track, inquiring all the way where my lodging is. My guide doesn’t seem to know, despite professing to have been here recently. It’s eventually discovered, at the end of a track, by the river. It’s closed up. I say closed up - it looks closed down. The chairs are all piled up in the cafe and none of the bungalows are prepared. There is litter strewn around and the paths are overgrown.
The caretaker knows nothing about a booking; a couple of men start dragging furniture around and spraying DDT. Clean sheets but no blankets. Malan translates for Mountaga who translates for me. If I had more energy I would push for a return to town. But I’m too tired after last night’s shenanigans. I didn’t have hopes of any dinner, but the one man in charge turns out to be a very good cook. Even though the requested chicken turns into carp and fries.
We're here because tomorrow we take the boat to The Bijagos Islands
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